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"We love sites like this, because we envision the trove of information if everyone would do it for their local cemetery.  A comprehensive look at the hundreds of Confederate dead in Canton with good histories."

- Civil War Interactive, June 1998

The following article and database information was generously provided to this website by Patrck M. Harrison.   Below you will find links to the names of the confederate soldiers who were buried in the Canton Cemetery in Canton MS.

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January, 1997

In 1986, at the suggestion of Compatriot Grady Howell, past commander Jefferson Davis Camp #635, Sons of Confederate Veterans [SCV] in Jackson, Mississippi, I secured a copy of a page from the John L. Powers Papers [Z742V] in the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Compatriot Howell had informed me that this page listed some of the Confederate dead buried at Canton, Mississippi. Listed in this clipping were 170 names of Confederate soldiers who had died at Canton, Mississippi between 1862 and 1864. Using the facilities of the Mississippi State Archives to search through period newspapers, I was able to add additional names to the original list.

Compatriot Charles L. Sullivan was in charge of the Mississippi SCV activities centered around Confederate soldier grave registration and he suggested that I work with Compatriot Roger B. Hansen and his group of SCV compatriots to check the accuracy of the list. Hansen’s group provided additional research and verification using the facilities of the archives in the former Confederate States and they supplied numerous other names to the original list. In April of 1989, requests for 256 monuments were submitted to the Veterans Administration.

Thankfully, as we approached the time when monuments would be ordered from the Federal Government, Canton Mayor Sidney Runnels threw his support behind the project. The local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy [UDC] also became active in the project. Mrs. Jerry M. [Pauline] Watkins, UDC Chapter President, helped to check the accuracy of the engraving on the collected monuments delivered to Canton. Mrs. Watkins and Helen Gregory typed 256 monument requests and checked them for accuracy, while Lorraine Middleton typed the alphabetical listing.

By November, 1989, there was a new SCV camp, the Addison Harvey Camp #267, located in Canton. On that date, the following members met to remove 256 unknown monuments: Patrick Harrison, Glenn Gary, Vernon Nichols, Mike McGee (and son), Linn Hart, George Jones, Bill Dinkins and Dutch Amsler. The next weekend, after the camp transported the 240 lb. each monuments to the cemetery site, the following group of SCV and UDC members and friends met to erect the new monuments: Patrick Harrison, O. E. Castens, Jr., Walter Cummins, Tim Case, Pauline Watkins, Mrs. Morgan, Margaret Sullivan, Edith Purviance and Henry Purviance, together with additional labor provided by Linn Hart. 20 of the monuments were incorrectly inscribed or broken in transit and were placed in the proper position by Linn Hart after replacements were received. We could not have accomplished our goal without Linn Hart’s support and labor.

Canton During the War

Based upon census figures, the population of Canton, Mississippi in 1861 is estimated at approximately 2,000 citizens. The town was the terminus of two Mississippi railroads: the "Mississippi Central Railroad," and the "New Orleans, Great Northern and Jackson Railroad." Consequently, there were a number of hotels for the passengers and crews who had to wait for other trains. At one point, there were over 30 saloons in the town and an opera house on the square.

Canton was a boom town at the beginning of the Confederate War in 1861 and probably would have been much more important in the history and development of central Mississippi had it been allowed to continue to develop. But with secession and the war, Canton, along with other towns in Mississippi, saw a gradual halt to their growth.

When war finally came to the Confederacy, the first local unit to be organized was "The Madison Light Artillery." Also "The Confederates," "The Camden rifles," and "The Beauregard Rifles," which were were assigned to the 18th Regiment Mississippi Infantry C.S.A. Later on, the 18th Regiment was dispatched to the east and ultimately ended up in General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, together with the "Madison Light Artillery". Confederate state patriotism was inflamed by the intrusions of the North on the soil of Virginia and the ladies of the community organized to help on the home front. Little did they know that Canton would become an important location for the wounded and dead Confederate forces.

In 1862, Canton was the site of a Confederate branch or sub-hospital of the Jackson Hospital System. The hospital located in the Masonic Temple [now Gowdy’s Jewlers], was first opened to receive the overflow of casualties following the evacuation of Corinth after the initial battle of Shiloh in April, 1862. The second large "dumping" of sick and wounded soldiers occurred after the second Battle of Corinth in early October, 1862. The "Semmes Hospital," as it was known, along with sometimes five of six other locations which served as temporary shelter areas for the wounded, operated off and on until around July, 1863, when operations were interrupted by the Federals laying siege to Jackson, causing the subsequent evacuation. However, the hospital apparently was again in limited use in 1864 during Forrest’s operations in North Mississippi.

Today, we marvel at the fact that Canton, with no major battles in its vicinity, should have 350 Confederate soldiers buried in its town cemetery.

From a review of the known deaths, we know that the first deaths occurred in Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana units. There were two deaths in Mississippi units in mid-March and April first. The Battle of Shiloh was fought on April 6-7, 1862, and there were great numbers of casualties that had to be dispersed to southern sections of the State of Mississippi. After reviewing these death dates, it is my opinion that many of the first deaths in Canton were due to the evacuation of Corinth on May 30th, as there are a large number of deaths the first part of June, 1862. Some soldiers died on the train (as noted) but others lingered on in the hospital at Canton.

After the Battle of Shiloh, there were many hospitals created in Corinth and soldiers that could not be treated in the Corinth area were placed on trains and shipped south to the larger cities of Vicksburg, Jackson, and Meridian. When it came time to evacuate Corinth, The trains passed through many small towns where small groups of wounded soldiers were placed with the citizens in each locale. Because of the availability of hospital space, Canton received a large number of these dead and wounded. Perhaps some of these soldiers became casualties in the skirmishes before and just after the evacuation at Tuscumbia Creek, Booneville and Rienzi and others.  

When the boxcars reached Canton, the soldiers were placed in the Semmes Hospital. Within hours of the first train’s arrival, dead Confederate soldiers were buried in a special plot on the edge of the new city cemetery.:

Vicksburg received its first group of wounded, April 11. Men and women of the city worked without rest, moving the casualties to homes and hospitals. It was a sad sight and makes us realize that the war is near us indeed. (Mahala Roach in a war diary.)

Dr. J. W. Martin of Brookhaven advised Governor Pettus, April 14, of the large number of wounded he had seen at Meridian. He and two other physicians had dressed many wounded, some of whom reported having gone from 24 to 60 hours after injury before receiving any treatment. The conclusion stated by Dr. Martin was that we would lose a larger number of soldiers from the want of proper attention just after being wounded than would be killed in battle. After Dr. Martin told of his experience in church, the members met to prepare 500 bandages by the next day. They also agreed to prepare supplies to have on hand before the next battle. Others were ready to go with Dr. Martin to nurse the wounded.

On May 26, T. M. Caskey reported that the hospital at Corinth had cost the State $400 from Feb 5 to May 22, 1862. The Confederate Government had furnished rations for the 1,000 men treated there. Caskey also noted that the hospitals at Durant and Vaughan’s Station were getting along only tolerably.

The Town of Canton was organized ca. 1836 and immediately, there was a local spot where citizens were buried. The town’s original cemetery on Fulton Street became so crowded that a new burial ground was opened in 1853. However, If you read the record of the new cemetery there are monuments that date before 1853. The old cemetery was encroached upon by Fulton Street and monuments were either taken to the new cemetery or placed in other spots in the old cemetery. My own 4-G-Grandmother Margaret Edmiston Harreld is now buried under this section of Fulton Street although her monument has been moved to the new cemetery. There is still a monument for Susan Gartley, mother-in-law of Isaac Davis (brother of President Jefferson Davis) in the old cemetery. Isaac himself may be buried in that location but so many of the old monuments have been removed or stolen that we may never know for sure.

The history of the Confederate burial plot in the Canton Cemetery is not agreed upon by everyone but the following version is more accurate than some of the speculation that rears its head from time to time. Sometime in the late 1800's, one of the ladies of Canton, Mrs. Charles Handy, a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy secured the present unknown Confederate Soldier Monuments from the Federal Government. The wooden, numbered markers that were placed on the grave sites had long disappeared but, based on the generally agreed upon (at the time) information that 350 soldiers were buried there, Mrs. Handy placed that number of unknown soldier monuments on the south and west edge of the new cemetery.

Over 25 years ago, a road was built through the line of monuments in order to gain access to the area of the Jewish Cemetery. At least 15 monuments were removed and a gravel road was established over the spot . The gravel road still intersects the south line of monuments. Ten monuments were removed from the eastern end of the southern line of monuments and the lot sold to a local family. They have placed a marble border around their lot, the area where the confederate monuments were removed. At that time, there was a great deal of doubt as to whether soldiers were actually buried under the monuments. Many people in Canton believed that the men were buried in a mass grave. No one in the City of Canton had yet discovered the Powers list and knew nothing of the history of the Confederate burials.

In the other line of monuments which wound their way north and south on the western side of the edge of the cemetery, quite a few - we don’t know how many - monuments were removed and the lots were sold to local families for burial plots. No evidence of former graves were discovered when family members were buried in these plots. The first reason for this may be that new graves were placed in between individual soldier’s graves. Soldiers were buried without caskets for the most part and there would be little or nothing left to discover.

The second reason may be that in the period of 1861-65, graves were dug six feet deep; Graves now are dug four feet deep. Therefore, a new dig would not disturb another grave which was at least two feet deeper than the new one. Nevertheless, in 1989, the Mayor of Canton had the cemetery maintenance men dig a full size grave down six feet at one of the monument sites on the north-south line. I was present at the dig and can vouch for the fact that nothing was found at that location, not even the discoloration that would be present in an old grave site.

Although we now know that soldiers were NOT buried in a mass grave, we still do not have the information that would tell us the exact location where each soldier was buried after he passed away in the local Canton hospitals. Therefore, we have placed the new identifying monuments in line, in alphabetical order. It doesn’t matter at this late date where the soldier found his last resting place. What matters is the fact that he is now identified for future generations of friends and descendants.

There are now 256 monuments in the Canton Cemetery that identify that many Confederate Soldiers who passed over and found their last resting place in our city. Ninety-three soldiers are still unknown. We cannot yet rest from the task at hand!

Patrick Morgan Harrison, SCV
Canton, Mississippi, 1990


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Unknown Soldiers Found - updated Oct. 8, 1998

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